Your Very Own Dora
Friday, November 20, 1981.
"Perdo, perdis, perdit," Dora whispered, scratching each word carefully onto her parchment, her fingers stiff from the effort of making each letter perfect. "Pérdimus, pérditis, perdunt. Imperative, perde, pérdite..."
She checked against her book, then checked again.
It looked like it was right. She picked up her quill to start the next word, but the chapter was done. It was almost time for lessons anyway; she supposed it was good. But after last time, she thought she should make an extra special effort. Last time, she'd only finished three verbs from her homework before she got distracted and started reading about Rome, which had led to reading about Greece, and had gotten her thinking about whether or not Pallas Athena might have been a witch instead of a goddess, and then she'd pretended that she was Athena, on a trip with Odysseus, making herself into all sorts of people to help along the way...
Well, by the time her lesson came around again, she'd hardly finished anything that she was supposed to do, and Mr. Lupin had been very disappointed in her. She hadn't had a lesson in more than three weeks now, and she'd thought it was because he didn't want to teach her anymore until Daddy promised her that wasn't why.
Still, it couldn't hurt to have more done than he asked, could it?
Outside the window, people were having another procession through Diagon Alley, dancing and singing, mostly drunk. It had been happening every day for awhile, sometimes twice or three times. Now it was only a few times a week. There was a night when Dora had been awakened in her bed, and she and Mum and Daddy had gone out and danced a snake dance down the streets with their neighbors, but in the morning when she woke up again, there was still dancing outside, but inside Mum was yelling and screaming and crying. Daddy had cuddled Dora and promised to explain, but right then, he only made a rule: Don't talk about your cousin Sirius.
Then he'd gone back to Mum, who had started breaking things, and had used her wand to set a photo album on fire. Dora heard her sob that she only meant to "burn him out of it."
Mum had come in later and cuddled her, and apologized for frightening her, but her eyes were red and swollen, and Dora had not seen them otherwise since Halloween night. Daddy had tried to explain about Sirius, but Mum had frowned and said, "I don't want to hear his name in this house. He did something very bad, Nymphadora. And for your own safety, don't talk about him outside, either." She touched Dora's cheek. "I know, it must be frightening. And I will... I'll tell you. Someday. I'm not ready. It's very bad. He..." But she shut her mouth against it and closed her eyes.
Dora had waited for the Daily Prophet every morning, but the owl no longer came. Finally, a week ago, Mum had brought her a pile of news clippings and said, "I'm sorry. I should have told you." She had held Dora tightly while Dora read the reports of a horrible Curse, the killing of a dozen Muggles and...
"Mr. Pettigrew?" She looked up from the clipping, horrified. "He killed Mr. Pettigrew?"
Mum nodded, her mouth tight and trembling.
"I don't know."
"But I liked Mr. Pettigrew. He always made up nice stories about butterflies for me when I was little. He was Sirius's friend, wasn't he?"
"It's... complicated. I can't..." Mummy bit her lip. "You remember those butterflies, though. Mr. Pettigrew adored you."
"So did Sir--"
Mum held up her hand and shook her head sharply. Dora wanted to press the issue, but Mum had begun to cry again, her hands pressed tightly against her eyes, and it hadn't seemed to be the right time. Instead, she'd just given a hug and let it drop.
She'd talked about it a little bit with Mum and more with Daddy later (it just made Mum so unhappy; Dora didn't like seeing that look on her face), but it still didn't make any sense to her. She'd dreamed once that Sirius showed up at the door, the same as he always had, and had Mr. Pettigrew and Mr. Lupin with him, and they all played together and he promised her that it was all a mistake. Only then, he turned into a vampire with white cheeks and scraggly hair and long dead fingers and he grabbed hold of her and shook her and Mr. Pettigrew was gone in a rush of butterflies and--
She gulped. She didn't want to think about that dream. She hadn't told Mum or Daddy about it, either. Mum cried a lot now, but Daddy had been sad ever since Granny Tonks... went away... and they'd had to leave their house in the city and come here where the Aurors could watch them better. Dora hated it when they were sad, and didn't want to make them sadder.
The procession outside seemed to pause outside the flat. There was a cheerful drum beat and people were clapping in rhythm. Dora frowned at her Latin conjugations, then laid her quill down carefully and went to the window. An old couple was dancing barefoot on the cobblestone, and the lady waved up at her cheerfully. Dora waved back.
When she looked up, she saw a man moving at the end of the alley, weaving among the procession-people like a gobstone rolling along the edge of the cobblestones. He was wearing the same worn-out brown robes as always and carrying the same beaten-up old leather bag. His hair looked a bit scraggly from up here. He glanced up and Dora felt the smile drop off her face.
Mr. Lupin looked tired.
Then he raised his hand in greeting and found her smile, the one that said, Now, Dora, what kind of trouble are you in today?, and he was just Mr. Lupin again, and she smiled back and waved.
He pointed to the front door of the building--a shop front, really--and slipped into the crowd.
Dora ran into the kitchen, where Mum and Daddy were having coffee. "Mum! Mr. Lupin is here!" she said.
"You knew he was coming, Dora."
"Well, yes, but he's here. I saw him coming through the procession."
"There's another procession?" Mum asked, disgusted. "I suppose I don't even hear them anymore."
Daddy took Mum's hand. "We'll go home soon."
"Mm. As soon as they catch up with the rest of my relatives." She painted a smile onto her face. "But it's not so bad here. Lots of things to do in Diagon Alley!"
The bell rang, playing a tune that Daddy said was called "P.S., I Love You." Mum uncurled her legs and stood up. "I'll go let Mr. Lupin in."
She went out into the narrow stairwell that led to the door and Dora meant to follow, but Daddy caught her hand. "Talk, love?" he said.
Dora nodded and turned to face him. "What is it?"
"You know that Mr. Lupin was friends with Sirius and Mr. Pettigrew, don't you?"
"And you know... what happened."
Daddy kissed her forehead. "My good little girl. So many grown-ups needing things from you. But I need to ask something else. For Mr. Lupin. He lost three very good friends."
There was noise downstairs as Mum opened the door, and some muffled words as she talked quietly to Mr. Lupin.
"He's very sad, isn't he?" Dora asked.
"I can cheer him up. I can always cheer Mr. Lupin up."
Daddy smiled. "Yes, you can. But be gentle with him, Dora. He especially needs that now. Can you be a big girl, and promise to be gentle with Mr. Lupin?"
"Like with Mum?"
"Just like with Mum."
Dora bit her lip. "I'll be good," she said.
"I know you will." He pinched her nose. "What say we go for a walk after your lessons and dinner? We can go see the magical menagerie..."
"Yes, please! I could visit that kneazle again. She let me pet her last time."
"Then that's the plan."
The stairs creaked, and a moment later, Mum and Mr. Lupin came into the room, their arms around one another's shoulders like a brother and sister. Mr. Lupin looked like someone had hit him in both eyes, for some reason he had a scratch all the way across his face.
"Hullo, Dora," he said, squatting down to her height and giving her her favorite smile. "I don't suppose you have a hug for an old friend?"
Dora ran to him and threw her arms around his neck, kissing his cheek. His hair smelled like he'd been in the forest, with old leaves, not long ago.
He hugged her back and kissed the top of her head. "What marvelous hugs you give," he said, picking her up. She balanced herself on his hip and hugged him again. "Shall we get your homework?" he asked.
"It's in my room."
"We have the front room set up for your lesson," Mum said.
Mr. Lupin carried Dora down the corridor to her room, where her papers and quills were still piled up in a mess on her desk.
"I can do a backbend," she said, unhooking her arms from Mr. Lupin's neck and arching backward until she was looking upside down at the desk. She picked up a pile of papers and her quill, and was reaching for a bigger scroll when her hand hit her ink bottle, sending it toppling back toward the wall.
"Impedimenta," Mr. Lupin said quickly, shifting his hand. The ink bottle stopped before it tipped over, and Dora righted it. Mr. Lupin swooped her down then swung her upright. "Why don't we try this right-side up?" he said.
She grinned. "Good idea."
Mr. Lupin scooped up her Latin book and two scrolls, then carried her into the front room. He put her down in Daddy's armchair and spread her things out on the table Mum had set up, then sat down across from her and picked up the pile of Latin papers. He raised his eyebrows. "You've done quite a lot of homework, Dora. I don't remember assigning all this."
"I finished up everything from the week where I sort of didn't. And then I did the last lessons. And I kept going. Every week you couldn't come. I'm almost finished with the whole book." She bit her lip. "Was that all right? I didn't want you to be upset with me again."
"I wasn't upset with you," he said absently, scanning her pages of verbs. He looked up and smiled. "How hard you worked! Your penmanship is even good. You get full marks for effort."
"Is it right, though?"
"Well, I'll need to go over it carefully, but at a glance, I'd say you have the present tense mastered. Good work, Dora."
She clapped. "What are we going to do today, Mr. Lupin?"
He set her papers aside, looked thoughtful for a minute, then said, "Did you read any of the book I gave you last time? By Ovid?"
"The poems about people changing?" Dora nodded. "I liked it a lot. Look what I can do!" She concentrated hard, making her hair stand on end, then wished it green like leaves.
"I'm not done yet." She lifted her hands up to the ceiling, then spread her fingers out like little branches, then closed her eyes tight and concentrated on her skin, turning it the gray-brown of bark on tree. She tried to make it wrinkle up like bark, but couldn't quite get it right. "See? Like Daphne when Apollo chased her."
Mr. Lupin laughed. "You do my heart good, Dora."
"Daphne turned to a tree and grew roots. Would you like to be a tree, Mr. Lupin?" She started to let herself morph back into her normal face, crossing her legs in the chair and putting her hands in her lap to keep her skirt down (Mum was always telling her to watch where her legs were if she was wearing a skirt). "I think it would be nice to smell like a tree, but I don't think I'd like to stay in one place all the time."
"Oh, that sounds like the nicest part to me," Mr. Lupin said. "Can't you think of somewhere that it would be nice to be?"
Dora shook her head. "I wouldn't mind going back home. To my house. But I couldn't be a tree in the house. Trees don't live in houses." She thought about it. "Well, sort of. They become houses, don't they? I think if I were a tree, I'd like to become a house, with lots of people living in me. Only I'd want to have my leaves. I could be a house with leaves on it. What would you want to be?"
"Oh, just a tree. Maybe by a stream in the forest. Somewhere quiet."
"That's nowhere with me in it."
"Well, that would be a drawback."
Dora gave him her biggest smile, and he gave one back. "Do you have something for me to read for next lesson?" she asked. "I really like the books you give me."
Mr. Lupin's smile disappeared, and he looked down at the floor. "Dora, there's something I need to talk to you about. I talked to your Mum downstairs..."
"What is it?"
"Dora, I..." He picked up her papers again and ruffled them absently, then put them down again and looked at her. "Dora, I won't be giving you lessons anymore."
"What? What do you mean?"
"I mean... I'm not going to be coming here every week to teach you Latin. I have a new position. Full time. Somewhere else."
Dora blinked a few times, part of her seeming to go itchy and shaky inside, like when Daddy pushed her in the swing at home and she came down from someplace high up, except that the swing wasn't stopping. It just kept going down, and no one was catching it to push her back up. Another part of her was just waiting, expecting Mr. Lupin to laugh and say he was joking, but he didn't. He just sat there looking miserable and biting his lip.
She continued to blink.
"Dora, are you all right?" he asked.
Talk. Say something.
Dora Tonks could always talk. Mum said she'd come out into the world jabbering on about something and not caring that no one understood her. Daddy said it was mostly, "Gurgle, gurgle, gurgle, spit," and he was still working on the translation.
But now nothing wanted to be said.
Mr. Lupin got up and came around the table, kneeling down and putting his hands on her arms. "Dora?"
"But..." she whispered, finding her voice at last. "But I did my homework. All of it. And I went ahead."
Mr. Lupin swept her out of the chair, picking her up and cuddling her tightly. He sat down and gathered her onto his lap. "Dora, darling," he said, "it's not about your homework. Oh, Lord... not teaching you anymore--that's the hardest thing. I'll miss you."
"Professor Dumbledore... do you remember Professor Dumbledore?"
"He found me a regular teaching position. In Wales. At a school."
"I don't like him. Or Wales."
She slithered down off his lap and went to the window. On the other side of it, the last dregs of the procession were going by. A boy Dora's age jumped up in the air and did a somersault and someone clapped.
"Would you like me to go, Dora?" Mr. Lupin asked. She didn't turn around "Let you talk to your mum and dad?"
"What would you like?"
Dora didn't answer.
A hand fell on her shoulder. "Dora?"
"Everyone keeps going away!"
"Granny Tonks went away. There was a fire and then she was gone and she can't come back and then we had to go away--"
"Dora, I know. But you're safer here, where the Aurors can keep better track--"
"--and I never see my friend Bitsy from next door and everyone else is happy and--"
"Dora." He turned her around.
"--Sirius made Mr. Pettigrew go away and now he's gone, too, and whose Dora shall I be now?"
Mr. Lupin closed his eyes, his hands resting lightly on her elbows. His jaw was clenched tight and his face was pale.
Be gentle with Mr. Lupin.
Something seemed to fall from the back of Dora's throat down to her stomach, dropping off nervous little creepy-crawlies all the way.
"I'm sorry," she said. Her throat felt backed up. "I didn't mean to. Please don't go away. I'm sorry."
He let go of her elbows and wrapped her up in a tight hug that felt warm and comfortable and Mr. Lupin-y. Dora put her arms around his neck and hugged him back.
"Don't you be sorry," he said. "Don't even think about being sorry."
"But Daddy said I was to be gentle with you."
Mr. Lupin sat down on the footstool, then took both of her hands and squeezed them. "Your dad is a good man. You and your mum are lucky to have him."
"But you haven't told him how bad you feel, have you? About everyone leaving?"
Dora bit her lip. She'd asked "Why?" a lot and cried about Mr. Pettigrew and Granny Tonks, but Daddy had seemed so awfully sad, too, and that was too awful to think about. It wasn't right. So she had always tried to be cheerful with him.
She shook her head.
"Have you talked to your mum?"
"Well, after the fire, Mum said we should be especially kind to Daddy. And after Mr. Pettigrew died--and Sirius..." She swallowed hard. "Daddy said we should be especially kind to Mum."
"And gentle with Mr. Lupin."
"Come here. I'll tell you a secret."
Dora came closer to him.
He gave her a sad, tired smile, and said, "Mr. Lupin is a lot tougher than he looks."
"I'm still sorry," she said. "I didn't want to make you sad."
"You didn't. Things in the world made me sad. Not you."
"Then why don't you want to be my teacher anymore?"
"It's not about that, Dora. I just... I need to leave London, that's all."
"Because of what happened?"
"Yes. And Professor Dumbledore found me a position. It's a good opportunity--teaching a lot of children at the same time. That's something that makes me happy. Do you understand?"
Dora nodded miserably, feeling like she might vomit. "Will I ever see you anymore?"
"I imagine so. You don't need to be so sad. I promise, I'll come visit you."
"Er... I'm not certain."
"What about Sunday?" Dora asked. "Could you come Sunday?"
"All of them." Dora smiled, the grand idea growing in her head as she thought of it. "Mummy says I can have a friend for lunch on Sundays. And Christmas, too. You could come for Christmas."
Mr. Lupin blinked a few times, like he wasn't sure what to say, then said, "Wouldn't you rather have one of your friends over?"
"Couldn't you be my friend. I like you quite a lot."
"Er... well... I like you quite a lot, too, Dora, but--"
"Then you could be my friend. I could be your Dora."
He frowned. "What do you mean by that, Dora?"
"Don't you remember? Siri--" She stopped.
"Sirius," Mr. Lupin said firmly.
"Right." Dora nodded. "He used say I was his Dora, and no one else could have his Dora, and so on. But he turned out to not be very nice and he made Mum cry, and I'd rather not be his Dora. I thought perhaps I could be your Dora instead."
Mr. Lupin was very quiet for a long time, then he stood up and tugged on her hand. "Come over here," he said.
He led her over to a Muggle mirror that Daddy had put up on the wall. It was the only thing of Granny Tonks's that had survived the fire more or less in one piece, and it had great smudgy smoke marks on it. One of them was right beside Dora's face now.
Mr. Lupin knelt down beside her. "Look at yourself, Dora," he said. "What do you see?"
"Yes, right now."
She shrugged. "Just me. The same as... well, the same as most of the time. I tried to give myself bosoms last month, but it didn't work right and Mum told me that I wasn't allowed to morph that way until I actually have bosoms, and I don't know why I'd want to morph them then, if they were really there." She frowned. "They were a bit uncomfortable, actually."
For some reason, Mr. Lupin laughed. When he stopped, he was still smiling, his eyes twinkling. Dora smiled back, happy to see it. "That was a bit more than I needed to know," he said, mussing her hair with his hand.
"Oh. Sorry. Mum says I do that a lot."
"It's all right. I'm used to it. That's what I mean you to see, though--there's no one else in the whole world quite like Dora Tonks."
"There are other metamorphmagi... really, I read about them."
"Not many. But that's not what I mean."
"Only that you're a very special little girl. I think you're your very own Dora."
Dora frowned and looked at herself in the mirror. "That sounds awfully lonely."
"I only mean that you belong to yourself."
"Oh. Well, of course I do." She smiled. "I could be your friend Dora, though, couldn't I?"
"I think that could be arranged."
"And you could be my friend Mr. Lupin."
He raised his eyebrows. "You know, Dora, if I'm not to be your teacher anymore, you may call me Remus if you like."
Dora dared herself to do it, but it wouldn't quite come out. "I'll have to ask my Mum if it's all right," she said. "I'm not usually allowed to call grown-ups by their first names."
"Fair enough." He picked her up and put her back in the armchair. "Come on. We still have a lesson to do."
For the next three hours, they went over her Latin work, and Mr. Lupin walked her through the rest of the textbook to show her how to do her lessons. "Your Mum can help you out if you're stuck," he said. "And you go ahead and post your work to me every few weeks. I'll double-check it for you."
"Or you could do it when you come on Sundays."
He rolled his eyes and shook his head, and went back to the textbook. When that was done, they talked about Metamorphoses, and he asked her to write to him if she remembered any stories she especially liked in it other than Daphne. By the time they were finished, the sun had set, and the flickering light from the gas lamps in Diagon Alley was coming through the window. Mr. Lupin had conjured a candle for the table.
"Are you two winding up?" Mum asked at the door.
Mr. Lupin straightened a stack of Dora's papers and nodded. "I think so. What do you think, Dora? Have you got the lesson?"
"Yes." She thought--briefly--about saying no, about seeing if he would stay longer, but that wouldn't be nice. He was a good teacher and she had gotten her lesson, and it wouldn't be fair to say that she hadn't.
Mum smiled faintly. "Will you stay for dinner, Remus?"
"If you'd like..."
"Of course we would."
Dora nodded. "And he's going to come on Sundays, too!" she said. "For lunch. He'll be my friend at lunch."
"Dora, have you been bossy with Mr. Lupin?"
"No. You said I could have a friend."
Mum shook her head. "Remus, you're welcome here any time you want to be here, but don't let Dora bully you."
"I wouldn't mind dropping by," he said. "I like it here."
"Every Sunday?" Dora asked.
"Maybe not every Sunday."
"Ever other Sunday?"
"Please? And if you can't... a letter or something? And I'll write as well."
Remus looked at Mum. "What do you say, Andromeda? Will you have me as a guest every couple of weeks?"
"Oh, you're more than welcome. But I think you'll be Dora's guest."
Dora clapped. "Settled, then!" she said. "Every other Sunday. Until I go away to school!"
"At which point you'll be my guest," Mum said.
Mr. Lupin didn't say anything. He looked rather like he didn't know what to say.
Daddy came up behind Mum and put his chin on her shoulder. "So is Remus staying for dinner?"
Mum nodded. "Remus is going to be around for awhile."
"Dora's invited me for Sunday lunches," Mr. Lupin explained.
"Oh, good. It'll be good to keep in touch."
"And Christmas," Dora said. "You must come for Christmas as well."
"I'm sure Mr. Lupin has plans of his own on Christmas," Mum said, then frowned. "Do you, Remus?"
He sighed and shook his head.
"Well, you do now," Daddy said.
Mum nodded. "There are too many holes in the world, Remus. Let's not make any more."
They left Dora's lesson-things on the table in the front room while they ate, and the adults talked about work and the Ministry and Professor Dumbledore. For a while, they talked about being at Hogwarts, but it seemed to make them all sad. Mr. Lupin asked Dora if she wanted to be a Gryffindor or a Hufflepuff, and he and Mum pretended to be very offended when she said she'd rather be a 'Puff, as Dad talked about lovely parties in the Common Room a lot more than Mum did.
When they'd finished, Mr. Lupin gathered his things to leave, and he gave Mum a little hug and shook Daddy's hand. Dora gave him as big a hug as she could, in case he forgot to come visit next Sunday.
He tugged at her hair. "Try to stay out of trouble, Dora."
"That's no fun."
He smiled and pinched her nose. "I'll see you soon."
"I'll write to you in Wales," she promised.
"I'd like that."
And then he disappeared down the stairs, and slipped into the crowd in the street--always bit drunker and meaner at this time of night. Dora watched him from her window until she was sure he'd got safely through it.
Remus Lupin had been settled in his spartan quarters at the Llanfair PG Institute for the Magical Education of Squibs for less than two days when the common barn owl appeared at his window, tapping to be let in. A rather large letter was tied to its leg.
He opened the window and the owl swooped in. It deposited the letter on his desk, then looked at him expectantly. Remus poured some of orange juice into a saucer, and the bird dipped into it.
The letter was quite thick, addressed to him in Dora's careful, measured writing. It always struck him as unlike her--he was quite sure by the time she got to Hogwarts it would be a cheerful and illegible scrawl--but for now, her hard-working side was overpowering her impulsive side on the matter of handwriting.
He smiled. After a day or two of teaching sullen thirteen year olds who believed they had nothing to look forward to in life--he would try to reach them, but he hadn't been here long enough to even make the beginning of a connection--Dora would be a ray of sunshine. He broke the seal on the letter and opened it. A bit of parchment floated out and landed on his desk. He looked at it, grinned, and settled in to read.
Dear Mr. Lupin, she had written. Mum says I may call you "Remus" since you said it's all right, but I think I may need a bit of practice at it when you come on Sunday. I tried to write it a few times, but it felt odd. You don't mind being my friend Mr. Lupin, do you?
Daddy took me to the book shop yesterday, and I learnt quite a lot about Wales, as that's where you are. As it turns out, it has nothing at all to do with "whales," even though they sound alike. I looked in a dictionary, like you said, but I couldn't find out why they sound alike. Do you know? Anyway, I made the picture of the whales for you--it is with the letter, isn't it?--and they looked quite happy, so I sent it anyway, even though I know there aren't really whales. I asked Mum to charm the picture to make you smile. Do you like it?
Mum showed me a map. Wales isn't very far at all--just up a bit, and then turn left. Merlin was from there, only they called him "Myrddin," which looks quite odd but sounds the same, mostly. He had a crystal cave. If I come to visit you in Wales, perhaps we could see it. I'd like to see someplace that Merlin was. He's my very favorite wizard in history. He crowned King Arthur. Did you know that even the Muggles know about him?
I could write a lot more--I even know the whole name of the town you're in, even if I can't say it!--but Mum says you have quite a lot of papers to grade without me sending you a report, so I'll just tell you when you come on Sunday.
Do you like it in Wales? Are you having fun teaching a lot of children at the same time? You're a very, very, VERY good teacher. I'll bet they all like you and have fun when you give them lessons. I do.
After you left, Daddy and I went to the Magical Menagerie. I was going to get a kneazle, but she was sold. Instead, all three of us took a trip into Muggle London--Mum and Dad wore funny clothes, and Mum let me morph however I liked, so I made myself blonde and fat, just like Mr. Pettigrew--and we went to a place that rescues little animals. There was a very cute kitten there. I brought her home and I've named her Granny. You'll like her when you come. On Sunday.
Mum says I'm being very bossy about you coming on Sunday and on Christmases, though I forgot to boss you about that so far, and I'm to tell you that you don't have to. But PLEASE!!!!!!!!!
Anyway, I thought you might be a bit lonely, being there with only new people. Maybe you should have a kitten, too. But since you don't, I thought you might like a letter,
with love from,
Your very own,